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Shipwrecks and Jolly Pirates and First Grade STEM!

What can a shipwreck, a tough pirate, and a jolly pirate do for your STEM class? Good question and I am going to show you exactly what these sweet little picture books can do to get your class going with sailboats! Ships ahoy!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

First Graders Love Boats

I knew they would because my big kids love building boats. So let me show you how easy this challenge is. 

First, read them a book that features a boat! More about that later!

Then give them a few materials. We used pool noodles. I just sliced them into pieces with a steak knife.
Building a sailboat with first graders! Freebie included on this blog post!
Now we knew these were going to be sailboats so we talked about what a sail does before the kids started building. They also had straws and toothpicks for their boats. I didn’t count those little pieces- I just gave each table a handful.
You can see the little engineers above and below poking straws into the pool noodles for the sails. So how did they join the noodles together?


Building a sailboat with first graders! Freebie included on this blog post!

Time to Set Sail!

Now comes the part that will make you nuts unless you have a sink in your classroom. I don’t have one in the smaller lab so I had to tote water into the room with a big watering can. I poured it into a long flat plastic bin to make our sailing spot.

Building a sailboat with first graders! Freebie included on this blog post!
Of course, the boats floated! But what happens when you turn on a fan? Do they sail?

Building a sailboat with first graders! Freebie included on this blog post!
Well, some of them did and some of them flipped over. Whenever the sails were very large, the fan would flip those little lightweight boats. I learned to turn the fan to its lowest setting and gradually hit the sail with the wind. 

Building a sailboat with first graders! Freebie included on this blog post!
We made our first sails with construction paper which was also a mistake. Paper gets too wet to salvage so we switched to foam sheets.
Now wasn’t that easy! And let me just remind you. The kids loved this! They were so excited when their boats floated and when they actually moved in the wind they all cheered- loudly. This one is definitely worth a try. I have a link at the bottom for you to download a free direction sheet for this one!

On to the Books!

I have used all three of these as inspiration for STEM challenges and kids love all three!

The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris Van Allsburg

An amazing little book and if you know this author you can also expect something a little strange to happen! This is the story told by a villager who explains how a boat ended up high above the waterline. The tale he tells is about a young boy that sails away in his boat called Zephyr and crashes ashore on an unknown island. Soon after the boy sees boats that sail in the air. He learns how to sail like this himself and sails back home to show his village what a great sailor he is. However, he crashes onto his own land and there the boat lies to this day. It turns out that the man telling the story is actually the young boy that sailed the boat through the air! I love this book, especially because in the end the kids have to infer that the man is the boy sailor.

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

This is one of my favorite picture books of all time! It is a book of few words and a repetitive use of those words, but it is powerful. The book begins with a young boy observing a pirate crew burying a treasure.

“They were scruffy, All pirates are scruffy.”

 The story continues with the boy sneaking aboard the ship where he discovers the captain has a violin and a parrot. The boy swipes the violin and plays for the crew. And the parrot dies. This is the line that gets me every time,

“He cried. All pirates cry.”

The parrot is buried in the violin case. Oh, my goodness. Beautiful illustrations are what make this book a winner. Whenever I read this book to kids I show the photos very slowly because so much is going on in the drawings that are not said in the words. Basically, the children tell the story from looking at the photos. Inference! This is a great book to use with building boats and we have also used it for building a treasure box.

Roger the Jolly Pirate by Brett Helquist

This book is just hilarious. Roger is not a good pirate because he is too jolly so he is always sent below deck whenever pirate adventures are happening. During one battle Roger tries to cook and while doing so he spills flour everywhere and tries to cook his cake in a cannon. The cannon explodes sending Roger hurtling through the air covered with flour and the band of attacking pirates is scared away by Roger’s “skeleton”. The end of the book shows the pirate flag in Roger’s ghostly flour-covered look and the pirate flag called the Jolly Roger is born!

I love reading this one to kids because the words are just delightful. I used it with third graders as part of writing lessons, but with the young engineers, we read it to get ready to build a boat!

Okay STEM Friends, it’s a fantastic challenge with some fabulous book recommendations.
Click right {HERE} to grab your free set of Boat Directions!

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